Authorities in northwest China's Shaanxi Province Friday asked for public comments on relocation proposals, in the wake of the scandal of 851 children poisoned by heavy metal discharges from a smelter.
"We will provide villagers with healthy living conditions and means to make a living," said Xu Qiang, deputy mayor of Baoji City.
Villagers have four relocation sites to choose, three in Fengxiang county, where the incident happened, and another in Baoji City, said Huo Xing, deputy head of Baoji planning and design academy.
Those moving to Baoji can buy "affordable houses" which have been provided to needy families at low prices by the government since 1998, Huo said.
All the relocation sites are at least three kilometers away from the smelter and all those living within one kilometer of the factory need to be relocated, Huo said.
Villagers' houses will be assessed. If necessary, the government will offer subsidies, he added.
They can continue to be farmers if they like; if not, a company will be set up to work on their behalf, said Xu.
"The proposals offer us many choices," said Ma Chao, a villager representative.
"I hope a village can be relocated as a whole, since many of us want to have familiar faces as our neighbors," said Ma.
The proposals will be fine-tuned after all the voices are heard. The houses are expected to be finished by the end of 2010, said Xu.
"We will not allow the smelter to open before we are definitely sure that it will not harm the villagers," said Xu.
Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. had been ordered by environmental protection authorities to suspend lead and zinc production on Aug. 6, after sporadic cases of lead poisoning were reported among children from two villages near the factory site.
The factory has suspended all its operations under the supervision of villagers and the media Friday.
Baoji city government also solicited opinions from reporters and experts engaged in urban planning and environmental protection.
Fengxiang county government has offered free blood tests for 1,016 children aged 14 and under from three villages of Changqing Township, 851 of whom were found to have excessive lead levels in their blood.
Of the total, 174 cases were considered serious and need treatment in hospital. At present, 155 patients have received medication at five hospitals designated by Fengxiang County government.
Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co., which started production in 2006, produces 100,000 tonnes of lead and zinc and 700,000 tonnes of coke a year.
(Xinhua News Agency August 22, 2009)